Review: Butterfly Lovers is the perfect ensemble coming-of-age drama

“Whether one be male or female, rich or poor, royal or commoner, they should all be able to fly freely.” – The Butterfly Lovers

With a diverse set of characters that grow with each other as they try to find their way in a hierarchical feudal world that is rapidly in decline, the Peter Ho and Dong Jie version of The Butterfly Lovers 梁山伯与祝英台  is one of my to-go feel-good dramas (I stop at some point for obvious reasons). It’s refreshing to see a series where every person is full of wide-eyed wonder at the world they’re learning about and will soon be facing. Foils at every major decision point for the lead couple shows the complexity of the decisions they are forced to make and truly show why Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai are soulmates. 
Alternatively, if you like the possessive male lead who is mean to everyone but the female lead and has a troubled childhood that you can pity him for, then supporting male lead Ma Wencai (Chen Guanlin) has you covered. I’m 100% convinced the canon couple are soulmates in this drama, but I can see why this version’s Ma Wencai has a huge following.

This dance that Dong Jie choreographed on the day of shooting is one of my favorite TV dances. It’s simple but it’s so beautifully shot.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P59_Dw5yhD4

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Review: Love and Destiny questions the trope of reincarnated love

If the same soul grows up with different experiences and memories, are they still the same person?

Fated romances are one of the most common tropes in Chinese drama, so much so that many series take for granted that one will always love the same person in every lifetime. Xianxia drama Love and Destiny 宸汐缘 is a rare rejection of the assumption, instead questioning the ideas that the soul is the sole entity of human identity and that one’s life is necessarily bound to that of one’s past lives. In one of the most morally ambiguous battles in a recent drama, a chapter climax of the series has the male leads fighting for different reincarnations of the female lead. One male lead is determined that the human reincarnation of the female lead dies on time so her soul will return to heaven; another wants to try and save her current mortal self. The former believes that it’s important to save her soul so that she lives on, but the later believe that each life is a new person and they can’t sacrifice one of her lifetimes for that of another.

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Review: Love and Destiny is a gift that keeps on giving with every watch

First, Love and Destiny 宸汐缘  has no association to Eternal Love, it just shares the same world setting.   This is an original work by the production team of Eternal Love  – they came up with the script for this while filming Eternal Love.

The best way I can describe this series is imagine you order a dish at some hole in the wall place that you stumble upon and it turn out to be the best dish you’ve ever eat.  The ingredients do not go together, presentation is not impressive, but for each bite that you eat, the flavors just explode in your mouth and before you know it, you’ve finished the dish and you want to order more.  That’s my experience with this series. This may be the best c-drama that I will have seen for a very long time, at least for this genre.

Like lead actress Ni Ni said in an interview, this series is a love journey, and we get to embark on it with our leads. There are no misunderstandings, no love triangle nor second lead syndrome. The whole series focus on our leads and their love journey and the other characters add richness to it.  If our leads are not together, it’s very organic and makes sense.  Issues get resolved fairly quickly and in very mature way. (more…)

Review: Flowers as Matchmakers is a masterpiece filled with timeless charm

Flowers as Matchmakers
What happens when two brides show up for a wedding with the same guy? They fall in love with each other, of course!

Known for its accessibility, humor, and charm, Flowers as Matchmakers 花为媒 is often considered the best film adapted from Chinese operas. It ranks in the top 20 of all mainland films on audience review site Douban, and it’s apparent from start why the film is so highly praised.

  The script by Cheng Zhaocai and Wu Zuguang packs the story with humor, catchy lines, and updated values to make the story fit for a modern audience.  The brilliant performances by its stars, most notably its prima donna  Xin Fengxia and comedic actress Zhao Lirong, fills the film with joy. Ping opera pronunciation is almost identical to standard Mandarin, so it’s a lot easier to enjoy than other opera types for most Mandarin speakers. And you’re going to want to sing-along because the songs are very, very catchy.  

When the charming Zhang Wuke (Xin Fengxia) is rejected in marriage by the wealthy Wang Junqing, she goes to meet him to change his mind. However,  Wang Junqing’s heart is already promised to Li Yu’e (Li Yilan).  To save the potential match, his cousin Jia Junying goes in his place to meet Zhang Wuke.  Tricked into thinking Jia Junying is Wang Junqing, Zhang Wuke agrees to marry him.

Meanwhile, Li Yu’e takes things into her own hands and shows up as Zhang Wuke for the wedding.  When the two women meet at the wedding, they are immediately stricken by each other’s beauty and grace and team up to find out what’s up.

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Mid-series review: Novoland: Eagle Flag

Novoland: Eagle Flag is a show that attempts to chronicle the journey of three young heroes who go from naïve youngsters to rulers in their own right. I say attempt only because at the time of writing this review, the one character that seems to be getting a proper and logical growth arc is Ji Ye (Chen Ruoxuan), and even his arc is written in such a way that the character takes one step forward and two steps backward. Lv Guichen (Liu Haoran) is still the just and benevolent savior, though his resurrection should help drive the character forward. That being said, I still find the show riveting enough to watch every single episode, which doesn’t happen very often these days.

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Love and Destiny is Ni Ni as every Disney Princess in ancient China

Your royal cuteness Ni Ni as Lingxi

Have you ever wondered how Disney Princesses would be like if they were filmed in a Chinese fantasy world? Look no further than Love and Destiny, the drama that is basically The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and maybe Elsa but set in the world of Eternal Love. Here’s a review that’s not really a review of why Ni Ni is each of those princesses.

In the first lifetime, Ni Ni’s Lingxi is bird fairy who’s been restricted from leaving the peach blossom land of her childhood. She spends her daydreaming of meeting her hero the God of War Jiuchen and becoming a part of his world. When she escapes to the heavens against her father’s will, she meets and falls for Jiuchen. Eventually, she is tempted by a demon and exchanges her ability to hear (and by association her voice) to save the man she loves. As for herself, she dissipates into bubbles.

In this lifetime, Ni Ni is my favorite live-action Disney Princess since Amy Adams. She perfectly portrays the wide-eyed wonder and the contagious joy of the character. Her character is one of the few who can feel naive and pure instead of dumb. Lingxi just so full of good and charm that it’s hard to not want to give her a hug.

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Mid-series review: The Longest Day in Chang’an

The first half of The Longest Day in Chang’an is mesmerising, and has a very meaty setup – Zhang Xiaojing (Lei Jiayin), former police detective (buliangren) and currently a prisoner on death row, is given the near impossible mission of uprooting a terrorist group within twenty four hours. He sacrifices close friends and subordinates and willingly puts himself in mortal danger in order to save the people of Chang’an, yet is easily thrown under the bus by those in power when things get out of control.

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Review: Urban Fantasy Hanson and the Beast is Men in Black meets chick flick

Millions of years ago, aliens, now known as  yaoguai or demons, landed on Earth. To blend in, they hide their animal forms by shapeshifting into humans. To make sure their secrets are hidden from the humans, the Bureau of Transformers was formed to monitor yaoguai actions in our world.     When young arctic fox demon Bai Qianchu (Liu Yifei) comes to the human world to repay an act of kindness and accidentally exposes her true form, she’s being chased after by the bureau’s agents.

Her object of interest is zookeeper and swindler Yuan Shuai (Feng Shaofeng), who saved her when he was a child.  When Bai Qianchu falls for Yuan Shuai, the two become caught at the center of a power struggle in the demon world between those who want to live apart from humans and those who want to cohabit the world with humans.

Urban fantasy film Hanson and the Beast takes the exciting concept of an alien registration agency and made a rom-com whose main feature is Liu Yifei being charming and beautiful. Luckily, it does that well enough if you like Liu Yifei.  Plus, unlike her last blockbuster,  the rest of the cast can actually act and the set-up is refreshing enough that you sit through it and enjoy Liu Yifei. A drama spinoff of the series starring Wang Ziwen and Chen He was released last week.

Liu Yifei as a fox pup

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Drama Review: Goodbye My Princess

Funnily enough, the drama premiered on Valentine’s Day, and ended on Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day).

Goodbye My Princess is yet another example of the typical Chinese drama that starts off as a pretty engaging show, starts falling apart in the middle, and can barely hold itself together by the time it reaches the finish line.

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Review: The Legends is a fast-paced wuxia rom-com with two great female leads

Featuring two female leads with character flaws and character growth, The Legends has one of the best written female friendships of late.

The Legends 招摇 might be the best wuxia-ish drama with a female lead out yet (I know, low bar), and the three leads might have my favorite drama lead dynamic since The Disguiser.  The currently-airing drama is still a funny, cute rom-com at heart, but it’s one of the few wuxia that treats its female leads’ ambitions no different than a male lead.  It  reminds me of Wicked the musical with its polar-opposite female leads who share a room and who change each other for good. One of them is pushed into wickedness after being called so by the leader of the land, but the other believes in her even after the world has deemed her wicked. The romance plot reminds me of The Disguiser, with the male lead being in love with not just the female lead but her visions for the world.

update: You should stop watching the moment Zhaoyao explodes because that is when the series also explodes as they go into original content. Everyone becomes out of character and the plot is a mix of cringe+boring+??? after that. 

Zhaoyao (Bai Lu) starts off as a young girl fed naive visions of helping her people “become good” by her mentor and first crush. Yet when he condemns to death an innocent youth prophecied for evil, she is horrified and rebels against him.  Her mentor ends up killing her grandfather while she saves the youth. After being told repeatedly she’s wicked by everyone, Zhaoyao chooses to become wicked. She sets out to build a ruthless empire, killing both her mentor and her old dreams along the way.

Five years later, the “righteous” sects gang up on her and she is killed. The youth she saved, Li Chenlan (Xu Kai), takes over her sect and rebuilds it in her original vision. When she magically returns from death, she finds that her acres of traps and torture equipment have all been converted to pastures and tools for the villagers. Enraged by this sign of betrayal, she goes back to her sect undercover and spends every day trying to seduce and/or kill Li Chenlan.  All this happens in the first five episodes! 

Zhaoyao: Who would be so shameless as to want to care for the most wicked person alive? Zhiyan: I’m that shameless.

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